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Issue #125 - January 2006

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Lost Prince Turns Messiah

By Cheryl Morgan

No, this is not Dune we are talking about here. Or Star Wars for that matter. If you are a good enough writer you can wring new life out of the hoariest of old clichés. And Richard Paul Russo is a good writer; so donít give up on The Rosetta Codex because of a few unoriginal ideas.

The book begins with a ship carrying 5-year-old Cale Alexandros and his wealthy, powerful father being shot out of the sky above Conradís World. Cale and his bodyguard, Sidonie, eject in a small flyer, but they crash in the wilds. Sidonie is raped and murdered, and the boy taken as a slave.

It turns out that Conradís World is very much a frontier planet. It is full of villains and ruffians of all sorts. Even when Conrad has escaped from slavery ó thanks in part to a Mysterious Stranger called Blackburn ó he finds the capital city, Morningstar, almost as dangerous. The one bright spot in the local culture is a group known as the Resurrectionists. Naturally they catch Caleís interest.

Here Russo switches to another cliché, that of the lost civilization. We are talking about the aliens known as the Jaaprana. I say "known as" because although they have left extensive ruins and much written work on many worlds, the language of the aliens has as yet defied translation. Treasure hunters talk of the mysterious Rosetta Codex, a book written in both the Jaaprana language and several known languages. If it can be found, the secrets of Jaaprana technology can be unlocked. But legend also has it that the Codex speaks of a chosen one, a Messiah who will find the Codex and use it to restore the entire Jaaprana race to life. Guess who?

Of course not everyone thinks that resurrecting the Jaaprana would be a good idea. Some are understandably terrified of the technologically superior aliens. Others just canít see why mankind would want to risk letting a potential competitor into their universe. Caleís most energetic opponents are a group of elective cyborgs called the Sarakheen, who seem to think they are the future of the human race.

I did say at the beginning of this review that it takes a good writer to take clichés like this and make something of them. And Russo is a good writer. Throughout much of the book he demonstrates that. His world is interesting, his characters have some depth to them, and for the most part Caleís motivations are clear and believable. I enjoyed the book, and it kept me well entertained on a long flight to Boston. But having got to the end I was somewhat disappointed to discover that none of the complex endings I had been speculating about eventuated. The Rosetta Codex is altogether too straightforward and simple. Even the obvious and predictable twists donít happen. The only real surprise was that there were no surprises. Which is a big shame, given how brutally the book started. Can we have a Directorís Cut, please? One that hasnít been castrated by focus groups?

The Rosetta Codex - Richard Paul Russo - Ace - trade paperback

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee